The average American scarfs down 23 pounds of pizza each year, according to the pizza delivery app Slice.
And with 77,000 pizzerias across the country to choose from, according to QSR Magazine estimates, your options are seemingly endless. So, how do you know which pie to pick?
Grow visited celebrity chef and partner of Prova Pizzabar Donatella Arpaia at her restaurant's newest location in New York City's Times Square. She shared tips for making and buying high-quality pizza without breaking the bank.
Pizza is a combination of art and science, according to Arpaia. In order to create good pizza, you need good ingredients.
"There's cheese and then there's cheese," and quality cheese is essential, says Arpaia.
Unexpectedly, though, spending a little more at first helps you save money in the long run when you're making a pie at home. Spend a little extra on higher-quality fresh mozzarella. Processed mozzarella costs around $2 for 8 ounces, while fresh mozzarella costs just a dollar more. Making pizza is inexpensive even if you splurge on ingredients and you can really taste the difference, Arpaia explains.
If you buy fewer but superior ingredients, you'll need less and end up saving money, Arpaia explains: "I always feel like when people are putting more ingredients, that means that the ingredients themselves aren't good and can't stand on their own."
If you have great quality crust, simple sauce, good cheese, a vegetable, and a protein, that's every food group you need in one dish, Arpaia says.
To achieve restaurant-quality bubbly cheese on a homemade pie, Arpaia suggests using shredded cheese and baking your pizza twice. The first time, bake your dough at 500 degrees for 10 minutes with no toppings on it. The dough will be cooked through. Then add the toppings and cook for an additional five to 10 minutes.
If you put everything in the oven at once, you might end up with burnt crust and uncooked toppings.
To save time if you're making pizza at home, buy higher-quality ready made dough. But there's an exception, she adds: "Please don't buy like the prebaked, vacuumed" dough.
Instead, go to your local pizzeria and ask for fresh dough, or buy fresh dough at your grocery store. Then let it rest for at least three hours outside of the fridge so it will be easier to roll out.
Whether you're making it at home or buying a pie from your favorite pizzeria, pay attention to the toppings. They can reveal a lot of information about the quality of your pizza, Arpaia explains. Curled pepperoni indicates there's more meat and fewer additives, and you can tell it's full of preservatives if the edges don't curl.
Cooking your own pizza is an easy and inexpensive way to please a crowd, Arpaia says: "Pizza is a universal food ... and you can put your own ethnic twist on it too."
To keep costs down, inexpensive pizza joints use processed products. Look at the color of the cheese next time you're buying a slice, Arpaia suggests. Cheap pizza joints "aren't even using real cheese," she says. "It's oil that's processed. Mozzarella should be the color of milk, not titanium white. ... Titanium white usually means there's a lot of bad stuff."
To find out if the pizza you're ordering is low-quality, try drinking a glass of water after eating it, she suggests. "Most pizza people, like the dollar pizzas that you see, they put a ton of yeast in to have a quick rise." That means that the dough fermentation process will take place in your stomach as soon as you drink water, which can leave you feeling bloated.
High-quality crust ferments outside of the body and doesn't have a high yeast content, she says.
Video by Jason Armesto
After looking at thousands of pizza prices from almost 3,700 pizza places around the U.S., NPR found out that you almost always get a much better deal when you buy a bigger pizza. The math is simple: Since pizza is a circle, its surface area increases with the square of the radius. So one 18-inch pizza gives you more pizza than two 12-inch pies, according to the research.
To save, buy a bigger pie and then reheat it properly. Arpaia says to properly store leftover pizza, cover each slice in plastic wrap, put it in a reusable plastic bag and freeze it, unless you're going to eat it the next day.
When reheating a slice, instead of using the microwave, "do it in the oven, or air fryers are awesome ... the air-fry dry heat really makes it crispy and good."
Then throw on a finishing touch. "I believe in fresh herbs all the time," she says. "If you're trying to lose weight, it's a great way to add flavor without fat. I think it just brings every dish to life. And there's no replacement for fresh herbs. People that just use dry herbs are just missing out. It's like food without salt."
Herbs like parsley and basil costs less than $1 a bunch. In order to keep them fresh, Arpaia suggests washing your herbs and drying them as soon as you buy them. Next, trim them into portion sizes, roll them in a paper towel and store them in a reusable plastic bag. They'll stay fresh in your fridge for up to two weeks.
Still, she recommends making your own pizza, as it's both simple and cost-effective. Cooking for yourself will help you avoid the hidden calories at restaurants, save money, and even bond with friends and family, Arpaia says. "I think today everything is multimedia, multitasking, on the phone. And there's such a disconnect among young people. And I think food is a great way to reconnect. ... I think that once you get into it, it's a love affair that will last a lifetime."
- Roll your dough out into a square instead of a circle
- Preheat your oven to 500 degrees with a baking sheet inside
- After 10 minutes, take out baking sheet and lay out dough
- Bake dough for 10 minutes until it’s cooked through before adding toppings
- Use high-quality shredded mozzarella to ensure even melting
- Add cheese last, since it acts as glue and helps other toppings stick to your pizza
- Use a simple tomato sauce with a few high-quality ingredients
- Cover all of the edges with sauce
- Don’t add too much sauce or the crust will lose its crunch
- Use appropriately and sparingly. If your toppings are high-quality, you won’t need to load them on
- Look for pepperoni that curls around the edges and isn’t artificially red in color
- After pizza is cooked, top with fresh herbs, arugula or spinach for a more appetizing appearance and to add freshness
- Finish pizza with high-quality extra virgin olive oil to elevate your dish
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